If you're just starting out with 3D printing, I suggest you start here.
Updated May 5, 2022 7:00 a.m. PT
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Russell Holly is a Managing Editor on the Commerce team at CNET. He works with all of CNET to assemble top recommendations as well as helping everyone find the best way to buy anything at the best price. When not writing for CNET you can find him riding a bike, running around in Jedi robes, or contributing to WOSU public radio's Tech Tuesday segment.
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My love for 3D printing and my desire to maintain a 3D printer are immediately at odds with one another. If I spend more time diagnosing why a print failed or what I need to achieve optimal printer performance than I spend creating things to put in the printer, I'm not interested. So despite my having been a 3D printer owner and fan since around 2015, my time spent actually printing things is fairly low. When Anycubic announced the Kobra as a starter printer and generally smaller companion to the Kobra Max (reviewed by my colleague James Bricknell), I was curious to see how far less expensive machines had come in the last seven years.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I found my biggest issues in 3D printers of yore had evaporated with this new model.
Short of shipping it fully assembled, the Kobra couldn't be much easier to put together by yourself. The step-by-step instructions in the box have you well on your way inside of 20 minutes, leaving you plenty of time to fire up the machine and follow the prompts on its touch display.
In theory all you need to do after assembly and setup is a quick one-time bed leveling, heat test and the initial filament insertion before attempting the included test print to ensure everything is OK. Reality did not line up with this theory, as my test print failed twice without any clear indicator as to why.
After a little poking around online, I found the culprit: The instructions Anycubic provides for initial configuration ask you to lower the print head to a sheet of paper until it doesn't glide smoothly. These instructions are not for a standard sheet of paper you'd get at Staples, so my print head was slightly too high and causing problems. A small tweak lowered the print head to the correct position and immediately yielded a little plastic owl (the standard test print for Anycubic machines).
With the standard done, it was time to fire up the Cura interface and slice a file for this printer. Anycubic included Cura on the microSD card in the box as well as a USB reader for it, making it easy to push files from my laptop to the printer without needing to directly connect. Unfortunately, the provided version of Cura did not come with instructions for this Anycubic printer; I had to follow a different set of instructions for manually building this. Later in my review period, Anycubic provided a config file for Prusa Slicer, which also worked great for prepping files for printing. Whichever software you use, once ready you pop the microUSB card into the the printer's front, tap the file you want and you're good to go.
My frustration with the software and general lack of support at this stage is immediately balanced by how great this printer is when it works. Once I was able to get support from Anycubic, things were great. But if you're going to market this as a printer for beginners, there needs to be some consideration for the beginner experience beyond the printer's assembly and maintenance. Anycubic is far from alone in this, as most 3D printers are put on shelves for people to figure out on their own. While that is good enough for many already in this space, it's not the best path if your goal is to grow consumer excitement for 3D printers in general.
Once the software is actually set up and running, the Kobra is spectacularly consistent in the quality of its prints. More than 100 hours of active printing in the last week has shown I can set a print and walk away confident that I will return to a nice, finished print a few hours later.
In all of my tests, the only real issue I found was with the prints' output temperature. Because the cooling fan at the extruder isn't quite powerful enough, the extruded filament doesn't cool as fast as it probably should, which leads to issues with thin or narrow sections of a print. It's a small thing you can work around in a lot of cases with some small changes to the default output temperature of the extruder, but if your goal is to print something delicate or extra thin you may encounter some inconsistency at the edges.
Once a print is complete and the build plate underneath has cooled, you can grab the build plate's spring steel surface and give it a quick bend: The entire thing comes off and flexes easily, so you can pop anything off of it with ease. Having spent many hours with glues and sprays on 3D printers from older generations, having a simple flexible plate I can rely on and easily clean is fantastic.
For $300, the Anycubic Kobra is the best starter 3D printer I have used in a long time. It's easily $100 better than any of the bargain $200 printers you'll find anywhere, both in overall print quality and how fast it completes simple tasks like heating up to the correct temperatures. And if Anycubic puts just a little more energy into supporting its users through the software side of things, instead of leaving it all up to the 3D printer community, this little printer could help get a lot of new people into this hobby.